SOWELA Receives $3.5 Million Federal EDA Grant to Fund Flight School

Pilot Training Program Aims to Address Significant Pilot Shortage and Connect Students to High-demand, High-wage Jobs

Lake Charles, Louisiana – Tuesday, April 9

SOWELA Technical Community College was recently awarded a $3.5 million U.S. Department of Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant to establish a flight training school and support aerospace workforce development. Funding for the project is also made possible through a $2 million match from the City of Lake Charles. In addition, SOWELA will contribute $1.1 million.

“Since SOWELA already has an Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) Aviation program and the College has a strong partnership with Chennault International Airport, it was only natural to pursue a flight training school,” said SOWELA Chancellor Dr. Neil Aspinwall. “The infusion of the $3.5 million EDA Grant will help build the physical facility and provide the necessary equipment to get the program up and running. The City of Lake Charles and Mayor Hunter have been a great asset in bringing this project to fruition.”

The flight training school will provide aspiring pilots with comprehensive training programs leading to a Private Pilot’s License (PPL) and commercial flight training. This initiative aims to address the growing demand for skilled pilots and provide an accessible pathway to aviation careers.

The project will include a flight school center incorporating a state-of-the-art flight simulator, aviation hangar and meeting space to provide future pilots with a world class flight training experience.

“Today’s news of the SOWELA’s EDA grant success for the flight school is an exciting moment for our community,” said Mayor Nic Hunter. “This announcement solidifies a project that we have been discussing with SOWELA and Chennault for the past several years and was also included as part of the successful LC REBOUND bond proposal. Economic diversification and workforce development are critical to our region’s continued growth and success. We are thrilled to be a part of this transformative, once-in-a-generation project.”

Industry collaboration for the SOWELA Flight School includes industry advisors from Chennault International Airport, Lake Charles Regional Airport, Planet Air and Noble Development among others that will ultimately create 170+ jobs.

“Chennault is excited to be a part of this investment in Aviation education and new growth in aviation for our region,” said Chennault Executive Director Kevin Melton. “We are proud to support SOWELA and the city in this monumental effort to provide well-trained pilots within the international aviation industry.”

According to the Louisiana Workforce Commission, Commercial Pilots are five-star jobs due to occupational outlook, educational requirements and salary. The typical salary for a commercial pilot is $81,000 or more with experience.

“SOWELA already has a strong reputation within the aviation industry for producing high quality aviation maintenance technicians,” said Lake Charles Regional Airport Executive Director Heath Allen. “The addition of flight school training is a natural expansion and helps address the aviation industry’s severe labor shortage.”

In an analysis by Oliver Wyman, North America will be 17,000 pilots short of need or 15% of the current workforce for the next two years, peaking at 24,000 of need or 23% of the current workforce in 2026.

Officials expect a groundbreaking for the SOWELA Flight School later this year.

About SOWELA Technical Community College

SOWELA Technical Community College provides traditional, distance, and lifelong learning experiences and awards associate degrees, technical diplomas, and certificates. The College empowers learners in career and technical education and enables transfer students to pursue a four-year degree, so all learners excel as globally competitive citizens. The College has been educating the region’s workforce for more than 85 years. For more information, visit SOWELA.

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Lake Charles, Louisiana 70615
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